"You seem to be in high spirits," Mark commented when Alice came into the kitchens. "Who was that visitor?"
"No one. Just - personal business," said Alice. "I'm heading out to the counter to help Kim."
As she headed out, she nearly ran into Emma Kavanaugh, who was apparently in a hurry. Emma grabbed Alice's arms. "Alice! Alice, you gotta hide me!"
"Uh - why?"
"Fraser's coming in through front door in five minutes. Don't ever let him know I work as an employee here!" She dove past Alice into the kitchen, to the lockers where she shoved her pack into one, then put on a cap and an apron, then hurried to where Mark was working on making more cupcakes with two other assistants.
As Alice went out, she saw Pamela and Cain walk out through the back door, and Pamela waved to her. She nodded briefly, managing a faint smile before heading out to join Kimberly.
Then she knew why Emma was running.
Garron Fraser was just seating himself at the counter.
"Yo, two blueberry frosted cupcakes and a coffee, please," he called to Kimberly cheerfully. "Oh, hi, Alice. How's school grades today?"
"Don't go sounding like my dad does when I give him a phone call," said Alice, moving over to where the the two guys dealing with beverages were taking a break. She got out a tin of coffee.
"Didn't mean to," said Garron. "By the way, I thought I saw Kavanaugh coming in from the front door . . .?"
Kimberly started first, but then Alice cut in with: "Really? Emma's not here. Must have seen someone else?" She turned to a confused Kimberly. "Kim, you can get Garron's cupcakes."
"Okayyyy." Kim was definitely puzzled, but had Alice not cut in, Kim would have spilled everything about Emma.
"I guess so," said Garron. Good thing he was the sort to lose interest in something in a few seconds.
The cafe's business was slightly lax that month, and Alice figured that it must be the cold weather that had sprung up recently.
Well, it was in early autumn, so of course, it would be cold, signalling the approach of more blistery winters to come.
Garron was sure to come everyday, as he had done for two years since he knew of the cafe's existence; whatever the weather, Garron was a frequent patron, no matter what the weather or the season, he would always come.
"You know what? It's almost like summer vacation these days, when teens start looking for a summer job," said Garron, springing into conversation mode out of the blue. "Even I'm going to have to get one someday."
"You assume that I'm working?" said Alice as Kim placed his order on the counter in front of him before leaving the two to talk. Well, Garron and Alice were both attending the same school: the Red Gryphon Academy.
"Well, Rhiann, your friend, was getting a job herself. And then you're working here, too. I thought it was a job, since you're always here everyday."
"I'm not working. I'm voluntarily helping my mom here. Except that today, she's not here today, so I'll just help out as usual."
"In other words, you're laboring for free?"
"No, I'm helping only because I feel like it. Simple as that."
"I don't know what job to pick up. In fact, I don't think I'll pick up any job aside from being a mage. That's enough to live with. You get paid for hunting demons, right?"
"Why are you asking me?" said Alice, annoyed.
"You know, you're a skilled mage already. So I thought you'd be better than I am about hunting demons and earning a life that way. Well, even Ciel's working. At an electronics factory. He skips the afternoons off, and we can't hang out until he get back to the dorms before dinner." Garron was now digging into his snack.
A cool blue aura came through her and she nearly reacted fast, but managed to glance a little over her shoulder furtively.
The aura was Emma, who slunk out of sight again immediately.
Another customer entered and took an empty table, and Kim went over to take his order, and Alice went to man the cash register.
When Kim had returned with the new customer's orders, she approached Alice, handing over an envelope.
"What's this?" Alice asked.
"That old geezer over there in the table whose order I just took wanted me to hand it to you." Kim was trying to suppress a laugh.
It's not funny, Kim, thought Alice, but opened the envelope. What she read made her get up from the cash register and approach the table.
"Nice to see you, Miss Hawthorne," said the man. He was tall, gaunt, and in his mid-fifties.
"Principle Reinhard, it's hard to recognize you these days," said Alice. "You could have approached the counter to talk instead."
"Not in front of the Fraser boy there," said Principle Reinhard. "In fact, not in front of anyone." He looked at her curiously.
Silence. Partly because Alice did not want to say anything or welcome him to the cafe. If there was a chaperone from the school who appeared out of nowhere to talk to her, she knew there was no point in making the chaperone like her, much less if it was something bad.
Reinhard broke the silence. "Hawthorne, I request that you return with me to the Academy's grounds. I have a few questions for you, and you'll have to speak with me. Privately."
"A week ago, you brought in that strange girl. Well, after that, you know what I'm talking about. Come to school with me right after you get me a cup of coffee and some of those cupcakes on show today."
Alice looked at the cupcakes on display. There were about thirty flavors on show.
"You mean you had Kim hand over the envelope without ordering for anything?"